LOS ANGELES (AP) – A group of thieves smashed the windows of a department store in a luxury shopping mall in Los Angeles, triggering a police chase just days after high-end Bay Area stores of San Francisco were targeted.
The latest incident in a nationwide crush and kidnapping crime trend targeted a Nordstrom store in The Grove retail and entertainment complex. It came as the country’s largest consumer electronics chain said an increase in organized theft was negatively impacting its bottom line.
Workers covered a large broken Nordstrom window with black plywood on Tuesday morning as security guards and shoppers walked in and out of the store. Michel Moore, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, said the agency would step up its visible patrols around high-end stores across the city from Tuesday night and through Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend. .
Crimes like these “have a profoundly greater impact on feelings of safety and security than the mere dollar loss of the commodity,” Moore said.
The thieves struck at around 10:40 p.m. Monday, using a sledgehammer and an electric bicycle to smash the window glass, Moore said. About 20 people were involved in the crush-and-seizure theft, stealing approximately $ 5,000 in merchandise and leaving approximately $ 15,000 in damage to the store when they fled.
Officers chased an SUV involved in the crime, and the chase ended with the arrest of three people, including a minor. Officers found Nordstrom merchandise in the SUV, as well as items that appeared to have been stolen in a CVS burglary earlier today.
The Grove incident followed a weekend of similar cheeky flights in the San Francisco Bay Area and Beverly Hills where groups of people, some wearing pliers and hammers, ransacked high-end stores and stole jewelry, sunglasses, suitcases, clothing and other merchandise before fleeing into cars waiting.
Prosecutors from seven Bay Area counties said they will make a joint effort to tackle organized theft in retail stores and met with a representative from the state attorney general’s office on Tuesday to discuss the matter. ‘a partnership aimed at “developing effective solutions to break down the networks of fences that drive this kind of crime,” said a statement from the office of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
Boudin also announced that felony charges had been filed against nine people for a series of thefts on Friday night involving a Louis Vuitton store, a cannabis dispensary and a Walgreens.
The thefts are believed to be part of sophisticated criminal networks that mainly recruit young people to steal goods from stores across the country and then resell them in online marketplaces. Experts and law enforcement officials say thefts increase as the holiday shopping season kicks off.
The National Retail Federation said a recent survey found stores are seeing an increase in organized thefts and perpetrators are more aggressive.
The electronics chain Best Buy cited the organized theft on Tuesday as one of the reasons for the decline in gross profit margin in the third quarter.
“This is a real problem that hurts and scares real people,” Best Buy CEO Corie Barry told analysts on a conference call Tuesday.
Barry told reporters on another call that the company is seeing organized theft on the rise across the country, but particularly in San Francisco. She said the company is hiring security guards and working with its suppliers on creative ways to showcase the products.
Still, loss prevention officers and security guards are typically trained not to interact with thieves, said David Levenberg, shopping mall and retail security expert. They are not trained or equipped to prosecute or subdue suspects, and the likelihood of violence is too great; instead, they are supposed to “watch and report”.
“The value of the commodity is not worth someone being injured or killed,” he said.
Workplace safety expert Hector Alvarez said retailers need to think about how to deal with their customers when a crush theft is underway. Stores have an obligation to ensure the safety of their buyers during these events, he said, as they would in the event of a fire.
Customers shouldn’t step in or confront thieves, he said, but focus on being a good witness for law enforcement.
While these brazen crimes are still relatively rare, “it has now become dangerous in some cases to go shopping,” said Alvarez, president of California-based Alvarez Associates LLC.
No customers have been reported injured in the latest incidents.
Flash mobs are usually organized by local people who recruit their teams and send them to steal specific merchandise requested by criminal organizations across the United States, said Ben Dugan, chairman of the Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail.
Those who steal are paid between $ 500 and $ 1,000 to take as much as possible and return them to the organizers who ship them to other parts of the country.
“The team leaders organize them. They will give it crow’s feet and in some cases even rent cars from them, or provide them with escape routes or a list of items to steal. It looks very chaotic, but it’s actually very well organized, ”said Dugan.
“We are not talking about someone who needs money or food. These are people who go out and do this for profit and for fun, ”he said.
In some cases, however, thieves may be impersonators rather than people working with organized networks, Levenberg said. He said the thieves might be thinking, “’Did you see what happened in San Francisco? Let’s go to the Grove and do it.
And while crush thefts occur across the country, Levenberg said cities with progressive prosecutors – like Los Angeles and San Francisco – are particularly affected because the penalties for perpetrators are not as severe as in some. other cities.
“The consequences are minimal and the benefits are substantial,” said Levenberg, founder of Florida-based Center Security Services.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday his office had met with retailers over the weekend who had called for more police patrols.
He said stricter enforcement would begin immediately “in and around high traffic areas and entering the Black Friday holiday season in shopping malls.”
Retailers lose an estimated $ 65 billion each year to organized theft, most of it stolen by professional thieves, Dugan said.
Last week, 14 suspects walked into a Louis Vuitton store in Oak Brook, suburban Chicago, removed large plastic bags from their coats and filled them with clothes and other items, stealing more than 120,000 $ in goods, police said.
Associated Press editors Stefanie Dazio and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles and Anne D’Innocenzio in New York contributed to this report.
Eugene Garcia and Olga R. Rodriguez, The Associated Press